Dear Miss Manners: What pronouns would Miss Manners advise using when referring to people who do not identify as either male or female?
I work with many young people in a community where a good number identify themselves as "gender fluid.'' Using "it'' to refer to their friends in this category is seen as offensive, as it equates a person with an object, so my patients refer to such friends as "they,'' even while talking about one person. As in, "Then Jordan told me they were going to visit their grandmother in Wisconsin.''
I want to be respectful of how people choose to refer to themselves, but the grammarian in me cannot tolerate using "they'' or "them'' to refer to a single person. Thus, I find myself sticking to the person's name only, as in "How long will Jordan be in Wisconsin?'' Does Miss Manners, in her sagacity, have any suggestions for a better gender-fluid pronoun?
You are kind to believe that Miss Manners can solve this problem, but this is a rare case in which she would like to appeal to her Gentle Readers for help.
You have stated the ground rules:
Be respectful of others. In this case, it means not using masculine or feminine pronouns for those who object.
Do not refer to a person as "it.''
Resist using plural pronouns when referring to a single person.
So far, the solution has been to go around the problem: Make the subject plural, when possible, to use "they'' correctly, or use "he or she'' with single nouns. But this is getting tedious and doesn't cover everybody. What we need is something simple that can be easily learned, so that no one is confused or insulted.
So would someone please come up with a solution?
Dear Miss Manners: What is the appropriate way to address a couple who are technically engaged but have no plans to marry?
For example, one couple I know has been engaged for many years (including a ring), but have subsequently moved on with all significant milestones outside of marriage — home, children, major life changes, etc. No mention of marriage arrangements have come up since the initial engagement. So is it still appropriate to refer to them as one another's "fiance(e)''?
Or does using the term "fiance(e)'' run the risk of sounding insulting, since it seems to highlight an unmet promise?
What did they promise you? A weekend of lavish festivities?
It seems to Miss Manners that such a couple alone can define the relationship. If they are affianced, they must mean something slightly different from the term now available to committed but unmarried couples, who call themselves partners. Meanwhile, the rest of us should look for our champagne elsewhere.
Dear Miss Manners: Do salad and dinner forks go on top of the napkin, or between the plate and napkin on the table itself?
The latter. As the first thing to do when sitting at table is to put the napkin on one's lap, Miss Manners would not run the risk of someone's not noticing the flatware and sending it crashing to the floor.